A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Kalean Ung and Jeremy Shranko in "Alcestis" / Photo by Ed Krieger, Boston Court

Critical Mass Performance Group’s staging of “Alcestis” at the Theatre @ Boston Court is a retelling of Euripides’ exploration of mankind’s fear of death. Playwright Nancy Keystone incorporates Euripides’ archetypal characters, yet adds psychological dimensions of angst and banality recognizable to modern audiences.

This is the world premiere of the play, directed by Keystone and created in collaboration with the Critical Mass Performance Group. The effect of the years-long process and the ensemble work becomes a very personal experience for audience members.

The play opens on the foretold day of the death of Alcestis. When King Admetus was condemned to die, no one, not even his aged parents, would volunteer to take his place so that he could live out a long and full life. No one, that is, but his beautiful and loving wife, Alcestis. A peaceful breakfast scene on a set reminiscent of the forceful cheeriness of 1950s television ends with Alcestis in her death throes. Like a lineup of oracles, the CMPG cast delivers a litany of modes of death both mundane and grisly.

CMPG reminds us that ritual both directs and burdens our lives, as in a scene that starts out as a carefully studied mimicry of the obligatory ceremony that surrounds today’s funeral services. Soon, however, words and gestures are delivered so often that they become blows that repeatedly knock the grieving Admetus to the floor. Does ritual free us or burden us?

It’s clear that this company takes great joy in exploring all the theatrical nooks and crannies, poking at the fears that accompany us in life. Yet, as in life, there is hilarity. The blunt, brute presence of Herakles as a doofus is a reminder that life is comical as well as tragic (a point not lost on Euripides either).

Beyond words, fine choreography opens the physical dimensions of grief and dread. Much about this production is really excellent, particularly spot-on sound design by Randall Tico that ranged from strangely unidentifiable clinks and clanks to familiar sappy dance songs.

—Beverly Lafontaine, Culture Spot LA

“Alcestis” continues through July 28 at the Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Show times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets or information, visit www.bostoncourt.com or call (626) 683-6883.